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November 22, 2013

A moment that changed our nation forever

DUNCAN — Few events have shaken American citizens like the assassination of President John F. Kennedy Nov. 22, 1963 in Dallas.

It caused a change in what, until then, was a safe, secure, innocent, trusting lifestyle. It snuffed out the life of a charismatic, articulate leader who had a young, beautiful family and whose difficult decisions in tough times were adding to his support and popularity.

He was in Dallas to build momentum for a 1964 re-election campaign. His motorcade was open and inviting. Huge crowds that jammed sidewalks for a closer view were happy and excited.

Little did anyone know life for us all would change that afternoon.

Events surrounding the shooting and his death shocked an entire country, changed significantly the art of reporting news and created permanent, personal memories that remain vivid even today, 50 years later.

Duncan residents remember it well, recalling precisely where they were when news of the tragedy reached them.

Here is a sampling.

Attorney John Ray Green: I was walking across the campus at Oklahoma State, heading to my political science class. When I got there, the professor had already written a “Class canceled” note on the blackboard.

City councilman and dentist Mike Nelson: I was in the third grade at Irving Elementary. I lived across from the school so when Mr. Monsey (the principal) heard the president had been shot, he asked me to go home and see if my mom would let us have a radio. He put in on the intercom so we could all hear.

Municipal Judge George Sherrill: I was going to an electrical engineering class at Oklahoma State. We were stunned and we didn’t do anything that weekend but watch television.

Former Halliburton executive Jimmy Cooper: I was in a Halliburton car, coming back from doing an audit in Texarkana. I heard the news on a radio. In those days, Halliburton didn’t have radios in its cars so it was on my transistor radio that I hung from the rear view mirror.

Newspaper business manager Linda Rice: I was a freshman at Oceana High School in Pacifica, Calif., I had just left my general business class where my teacher was Mr. Kennedy. A lot of kids were in the hall saying, “Kennedy’s dead. Kennedy’s dead.” I told them “No, he’s not. I was just in his class.” It wasn’t until later she realized they were talking about the president.

Former Duncan Police Chief Dale Anderson: I was in the dispatch office at the old police department (on the south end of what is now the city administration building.). We were watching a small black-and-white TV and all we could tghinkj of was “what in the world is happening down there.”

Retired Judge George Lindley: I was heading into my dorm at Colorado College in Colorado Springs. A friend (Terry Stipp) yelled down from the third floor and said the president had been shot. I said bullxxxx. Then I just stood there. He (Stipp) taped all the radio broadcasts for a week.

Car salesman Joe Vermedahl: I was going into the library at the University of Iowa (in Iowa City). A girl, who had heard the news and was sobbing, pushed the door open so quickly she almost knocked me down.

District Judge Joe Enos: I was going from Mrs. Flanagan’s seventh grade geography class to the physical education and health class. It was fifth hour. We watched television all weekend. Retiree Paul Craig: I was in high school at Elk City. We only had one television in the entire school. It was in the library. When the news broke, they let classes out and we all went to the library to watch.

Retired teacher Marcella Kovar: I was doing my student teaching in the Elk City School District. I was teaching third grade. My supervisor pulled me out of class and told me. Everyone was quite. There was no talking at all.

Retired Judge Phil Leonard: I was in Gainesville, Texas. I was working as a landman in Oklahoma City at the time. I went to lunch and saw it on TV. I did what everyone else did that day. I didn’t go back to work. I got in my car and drove all the way back to Moore, Okla., where I was living at the time. My wife and I stayed in all weekend.

Duncan Public Library Director Jan Cole: I was in fourth grade at Velma-Alma Elementary School when Kennedy was shot. They announced over the loud speaker. And there was just kind of a stunned silence because we weren’t quite sure what all that meant. It was scary and confusing. We learned a new vocabulary word. And that word was “assassination.”

Vice chairman of the Southwest Oklahoma Railroad Association Rick Duncan: I was in college, freshman English class at Fresno City College in Fresno, Calif. I don’t remember how I learned of it, maybe the instructor told us.

Patsy Duncan (Rick’s wife): It was my senior year in high school (Corcoran, Calif.) and I was in the physiology lab. It was right after lunch. The boy who came in and told us was the class clown, Johnny Gregory. We kept waiting for the punch line and it took us the longest time to realize it wasn’t a joke.

The Duncans said it that with so much trauma in the world today, it might be difficult for today’s young people to understand how different the world was then.

“The assassination of President Kennedy occurred in a very calm and trauma free era. All was right with the world ... and suddenly all was terribly wrong and very confusing,” she said.

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